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J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is situated on Sanibel Island just a short drive across the causeway from Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida. It is in the top ten most visited refuges in the United States and second only to the beaches as Sanibel’s top attraction with almost a million visitors each year. It is best known for its abundant bird life, over 220 species of birds. There are many endangered or threatened species in the refuge including American alligators, American crocodiles, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, West Indian manatees, and Atlantic loggerhead turtles.
The best and most eco friendly way to visit the refuge is to take the tram which is available several times during the day to tour Wildlife Drive. These tours leave from the Education Center parking lot. Not only is the tram a better environmentally touring option but also it is also more enjoyable than driving in your car. With an experienced tour guide you will spot more wildlife than most visitors would see on their own and the guides are also able to recount a wealth of information regarding the birds and animals.
You will be able to stretch your legs along the way at several stops. You never know what you may encounter, from tree crabs to periwinkles, from a marsh rabbit to an alligator. The alligators can be found on Alligator Curve where you can be sure to observe at least one of these prehistoric reptiles.
Your tram guide is always on the look out for interesting and unusual wildlife and they will always stop the tram whenever they or indeed a passenger see something to share with the group. You will also hear stories of the Calusa Indians and other Sanibel folklore.
So sit back and enjoy the ride with your hands free to take photos or hold your binoculars as you gaze at the wildlife. Taking the tram is definitely the way to go as it protects the wildlife and you get the best views possible with plenty of interesting information along the way.
If you would prefer to see the wildlife on foot, the refuge has 2-mile Indigo Trail, which starts at the Visitor Center, and a half-mile Shell Mound Trail, starting near the end of Wildlife Drive.
Wildlife Drive is open Saturday to Thursdays from 7.30 am until 30 minutes before sunset. Other recreational activities to enjoy include fishing, boating, kayak / canoeing and bicycling.
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